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In this second story of our series focusing on travel advisors and COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), we hear from Donna Alkarmi, president of Texas-based Lone Star Travel and a member of the TravelAge West Agent Advisory Board.
Alkarmi is proactive and positive, finding assurance in her travel partners as well as a special kind of travel insurance. Read on for Alkarmi’s tips for booking future travel and consoling panicked clients.
What has been the biggest change in your day to day?The biggest difference has been keeping up with the constant changes that each airline, tour operator and cruise line are making based on the frequent updates from around the world.
My days are filled with reassuring my current clients who are booked for trips in May and beyond that I am monitoring their bookings and that they have no need to worry as I will let them know if any new updates will affect their trip.
My team is kept up to date on the latest updates via our Facebook team page, and we are engaging and helping each other in marketing ideas, support and humor to get us through this trying time.
Are you facing any anxieties about work and your livelihood? No, I am not worried at all.
What percentage of your clients have canceled, versus what percentage have postponed?Personally, I only had two cancellations: a cruise from Australia to depart March 25, and one Cancun trip for an elderly woman. Other than that, I have families who just came back from both Punta Cana and Cancun, and they had a great time. I have another family that is to depart Sunday to Cancun, and they plan to go unless something out of their control should arise. I am watching a few trips that are slated to take place in April to Jamaica and Cancun, but I know the clients will rebook, as I was in contact with them before they called me; this made all the difference and created trust.
Unlike hurricanes and crises that have a policy in place, this situation is something no one saw coming, and companies are dealing with it one day at a time.
Are there any changes to the destinations of their future trips, such as opting for domestic locations instead of international travel?Europe is definitely off the table until at least June. I booked a Portugal trip today for October through Titanium Tours. However, yes, Europe is way down over last year. My Mexico inquiries are still coming in from my business Facebook page as I continue to promote resorts and specials, and mention that I will include the Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) insurance in all quotes, so there is no reason not to take advantage of these great deals.
Which suppliers are going above and beyond?I brought in a business development manager from Apple Leisure Group (ALG) to my biweekly Google Hangout team meeting for a debrief on the newest updates to cancellation and rebooking. He reviewed a few of our bookings during the meeting, which did not fall into the mold, and gave us solutions. It was reassuring to my team, and great to have that insider knowledge and not have to wait on hold on the phone for two hours.
I cannot stress enough booking with tour operators that offer CFAR travel protection, which includes a full refund back to the client’s credit card, minus the cost of the travel protection. Examples include all ALG brands, Pleasant Holidays, Vacation Express, American Airlines Vacations and Gogo Vacations; they are my go-to companies. Of course, some tour operators feature hotels that do not participate, but you will find those properties more frequently with American Airlines Vacations and Vacation Express. Luckily, it is clear as day who is not part of the CFAR policy.
Are clients panicking? If so, what methods have you found to be effective in calming them down?One client, who is supposed to go to Rome on May 7, is panicking about getting a refund for this dream trip. He has travel insurance, but nothing has been decided this far out, so I keep telling him it is a wait-and-see situation. Unlike hurricanes and crises that have a policy in place, this situation is something no one saw coming, and companies are dealing with it one day at a time.
What advice do you have to fellow advisors who may be struggling right now?Keep posting on your business social media sites about the great deals for the summer or fall, and promote the different tour operators that do offer CFAR insurance. This way, it leaves no reason to say no and allows them to take advantage of these travel specials.